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Kaua‘i-Born Seal Flown to Kona Mammal Hospital After Suspected Dog Attack

February 25, 2021, 9:35 AM HST
* Updated February 25, 9:42 AM
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A Hawaiian monk seal was airlifted from Kaua‘i to Kailua-Kona’s marine mammal hospital after suffering injuries from a suspected dog attack.

The Kaua‘i-born animal, RK58, was being monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and volunteers when they recently observed the seal to be in poor body condition, with puncture wounds and large swelling on his head. NOAA experts quickly decided to rescue and transport RK58 directly to Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center. He was flown to Hawai‘i Island on Feb. 16 via a US Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.

“RK58’s puncture wounds are most likely the result of a dog attack, and thanks to the thorough assessment from The Marine Mammal Center, it is clear that he was struggling to recover from these impacts on his own,” said Jamie Thomton, the Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. “We are so grateful for the partnerships that allowed him to be rapidly rescued, transported and treated and we ask the public to please keep their dogs on leash while at the beach.”

Rapid action is critical in these unique situations in order to provide seals like RK58 a second chance at life, said Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center.

During his initial critical care period, Center veterinarians noted that RK58 was moderately underweight, lethargic and suffering from head, neck and flipper swelling due to infected puncture wounds. Results from a radiograph exam revealed RK58 suffered a small bone fracture in his left front flipper at a puncture wound site. No other internal injuries were identified. The team also administered antibiotics and fluids to boost hydration.

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“RK58 arrived at our hospital in pretty rough shape but thankfully has been responding well to initial treatments and we’re hopeful that his condition will continue to improve,” Whoriskey said. “This case is a critical reminder that people should respect posted beach signage and adhere to leash laws to ensure the safety of marine mammals as well as the health of your pet.”

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This is RK58’s second time in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center. He was originally admitted to Ke Kai Ola in August of 2018 as the youngest-ever patient as a result of a maternal swap and early weaning from RH58 (Rocky) on Kaua‘i. He nearly doubled in body weight during his five-month rehabilitation and was successfully released back to his birthplace.

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 33 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) as part of the partnership with NOAA, utilizing resources in the NWHI to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life. Approximately 30% of monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and partners like The Marine Mammal Center.

Officials say RK58’s story is an important reminder that beachgoers should keep themselves and their pets a safe distance from resting monk seals. The Center strongly encourages pet owners statewide to protect native wildlife by adhering to leash laws and report monk seal sightings on Hawai‘i Island to the Center’s response team at the 24-hour hotline: 808-987-0765.

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On Kaua‘i, call NOAA’s statewide toll-free hotline at 888-256-9840.

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